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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Marvel's Small World Creative Success with Daredevil and Jessica Jones

In 2015, Netflix released two Marvel produced television shows- Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Both shows are excellent and will earn a spot in my end-of-year Top 20 list. There are many reasons why both of these shows are so good, but the main reason they work is because their stories are simple and their world is very small. Both of these stories take place in a small section of New York City (Hell's Kitchen) and tell a straightforward hero vs. villain story. Despite the fact that Daredevil and Jessica Jones will eventually team up and form The Defenders (along with Luke Cage and Iron Fist who will eventually get their own stand alone shows), their stories are self-contained.

Daredevil is an origin story telling defense attorney Matt Murdock's (Charlie Cox) rise becoming the superhero vigilante Daredevil in Hell's Kitchen. Early on, Daredevil discovers a crime syndicate run by Wilson Fisk (a.k.a Kingpin) played by Vincent D'Onfrio. Kingpin runs his gang mainly within Hell's Kitchen, and Daredevil spends 13 episodes finding and fighting Kingpin. Daredevil spends the first act discovering a sex traffic ring, the second act figuring out that Kingpin is the head of that ring (among many other criminal activities), and the third act bringing him down. It follows traditional superhero tropes (albeit the execution is darker and more effective that most), but its story follows one hero and his journey.

Marvel's second Netflix show Jessica Jones follows along a similar, broader story line. The story introduces its titular lead (Krysten Ritter) who soon discovers that her arch nemesis Kilgrave (David Tennant) is alive and is coming to get her. Despite the fact that Kilgrave, unlike Kingpin, has superpowers (mind control) and is revealed early and often of how powerful he is, he spends all of his time and energy on Jessica Jones. The show goes out of its way to set up specific rules for Kilgrave's powers and motivations. While a character like Kilgrave could very easily be huge and powerful villain in a Marvel film, showrunner Melissa Rosenberg sets up the action so that Jessica Jones' 13 episodes is just Jessica Jones versus Kilgrave. Kilgrave doesn't terrorize Manhattan, he just terrorizes Jessica Jones. While there certainly is collateral damage along the way, Kilgrave's destruction is relatively small in nature (especially considering both climatic scenes in each Avengers movie) that it makes sense that Jessica Jones is the only one trying to stop him. Neither Kilgrave nor Kingpin do anything so destructive that warrants Iron Man or The Hulk (and these characters absolutely exist within these show's universe) to step in, but these Big Bad's do just enough to warrant attention from the titular heroes. 

Jessica Jones and Daredevil's story-telling are in stark contrast to Marvel's film franchises. Their stories are no longer stand-alone stories. We don't have a Captain America film that tells us one specific adventure of Steve Rodgers, we have a Captain America film that sets up the next Iron Man film with winks and Easter Eggs to the next Avengers film. Avengers director Joss Whedon famously stepped away from this Marvel universe thanks to the stress of telling his own story along with adding scenes to further Marvel's Grand Master Movie Plan.

Further, Marvel is having creative difficulty telling stand-alone stories in their movie after they created a world where this super group can fight off all. I can't watch an Iron Man film with a group of terrorist kidnap the President while literally no other super hero hero helps him out. Why isn't Captain America or The Hulk or Hawk Eye helping Tony Stark fight The Mandarin? Why does no one from S.H.I.E.L.D. care? 

Maybe this problem will exist within future seasons of these Netflix Marvel shows. Maybe we will be upset that Luke Cage doesn't help out Daredevil when The Punisher comes to Hell's Kitchen in season 2 of Daredevil, but we haven't reached that point yet. So far, we have two individual stories that deserve to be told and make sense from start to finish. While these stories exist in an expansive universe, Daredevil and Jessica Jones each tell a story that doesn't feel that way. And everyone and everything is better because of it.



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